It's been a long road but we've finally landed at the top spot on our countdown. The last couple of spots have gone to the football team but the king of the castle belongs to the basketball team. The 2010-11 campaign was the best season for the Bearcats under Mick Cronin since he took over almost five years earlier. I've already spoke about Mick's critics and how he did a great job shutting them up this past season. Getting to the NCAA tournament all but sent them running for the fences. Overall the season had gone great, from the squashing of local rivals Xavier and Dayton early in the season to the beating of Louisville and Georgetown (twice) near the end of the year. Cincinnati had earned their rightful spot among the top teams in the country to play in the Big Dance despite the talking heads clamoring about their out of conference schedule (which was bullshit). Cincinnati plays in the most difficult, deepest conferences in the country. Hell, half the conference was ranked last season and with schedules stacked with the likes of Louisville, UConn, Syracuse, and Villanova, Big East coaches can never take a night off. Yet at this point in the season Cincinnati had taken their punches and given a few of their own to an 11 - 7 conference record. Not too shabby for a team picked to finish in the bottom half of the conference by most media 'experts'.
The Bearcats earned a first round bye in the Big East tournament and although they were ran off the court against Notre Dame after beating South Florida, they still earned a 6-seed in the tournament to face the Missouri Tigers. Let's get to the game:
I haven't been able to find the actual play by itself but you can see it at the 4:05 mark of the All-Sports Video Montage.
Like most of UC's games last season, the game was won on defense which is emphasized by Mick Cronin and his staff over all else. Cincinnati likes to use their defense to set up the offense by slowing the game down on their end of the court to set up scoring opportunities when they finally get the ball in their hands. Therefore it's no surprise that the Bearcats and Tigers exchanged leads most of the first half. But Cincinnati looked a little flat footed. Perhaps it was the jitters of a team that individually had never been in an NCAA tournament game or perhaps it was the speed of Mizzou's offense. Either way the Bearcats, while playing solid defense weren't exerting their force on their opponent that they should have as the 6 seeded team in their quadrant.
But that all changed when senior Larry Davis ignited the team with the spark they needed. Down 19 - 18 about halfway through the first half Dion Dixon quickly snagged the ball from Missouri and pushed it up to Davis for the the dunk. He yelled and pounded his chest as he came down. The Bearcats bench erupted and towels went flying. I went crazy with them and while my girlfriend, dog, and neighbors probably didn't appreciate it, I didn't care! It was the best play out of basketball team I had seen that winter. It put Cincinnati up by 1 and was a lead the team, like in the last Georgetown game, would never relinquish.
The play itself was great but the symbolism of that dunk is what gives it the top spot in this countdown. It wasn't Cashmere Wright who did it or even Sean Kilpatrick. No, it was done by Larry Davis, one of the six seniors on the team who had accepted the tall task of meticulously rebuilding the Cincinnati basketball program back to national prominence. Similar to what the 2010 Rutgers game was for UC football, this dunk was a culmination of years of frustration and heartache for the Bearcats basketball team. All of those emotions were released in that one single dunk by Mr. Davis. Overall, the success in the 2010-11 season wasn't for the university, the boosters, or regular fans like you and me. It was for those six seniors who lived through losing seasons, increasingly frustrated and disinterested fans, empty 5/3rd seats, and serious questions about their head coach. And if there was any moment to typify the rags-to-riches story of that class, it would be this one.